Nano Groups for Life Transformation and Multiplication
Philip P. Eapen
To grow big, churches need to grow small. Christian disciples can easily meet in small groups of three or four people every week for an hour of fellowship, mutual accountability, intercession, and Bible study. These dynamic groups, like colonies of unicellular organisms, are meant to grow and multiply through division.
The Church is like a living body. It grows spiritually as well as numerically. Spiritual formation or growth happens when each disciple of Christ grows in love, faith, knowledge, holiness, and Christ-like character. The Church grows numerically when people newly commit themselves to following Jesus Christ. Ideally, spiritual and numerical growth must happen simultaneously and continuously.
Since the terms ‘spiritual growthʼ and ‘numerical growth’ are commonly used in Christian circles. It is assumed that everyone understands these terms. However, most Christians are content with having just a hazy picture of common concepts and terms. Therefore, before I explain the relevance of Life Transformation Groups in our pursuit of growth, it is essential for us to have a clear understanding of what we mean by spiritual and numerical growth of the Church.
When I think of spiritual growth, I’m reminded of a few images. The first image is that of King Solomon’s workers preparing each stone that was used for the construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem around 3000 years ago.
The book of Kings gives us a glimpse into the manner in which stone was prepared for the work.1
“When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built.”
Only finished stones were transported to Temple site.
Today, the Church of Jesus Christ is the Temple of God. God is building this Temple for Himself using “living stones.”2 Each new disciple is like a stone hewn out of a quarry. Each “living stone” needs to be “cut and polished” into a “finished stone.” This painful and time-consuming process of spiritual formation is indispensable. God shapes each one of us using His Word, which is like a chisel that chips away at our rough and unseemly edges.
It does not matter how long ago a piece of rock was hewn out and brought to the “workshop.” Similarly, all boasting about seniority in the Church is pointless. What matters is whether a person was subjected to the process of spiritual formation.
Mere church attendance does not bring about the necessary transformation of our character, habits, outlook, values, words, and actions. A Christian can attend worship services, fellowship meetings, and prayer meetings all his life without actually making much progress in his spiritual life. It takes sustained one-on-one work and a total immersion in God’s Word to perfect a “living stone” in an effective and efficient manner. Although we may claim we have a life time to become perfect, the process of maturing as a Christian has to be hastened if a Christian has to be productive for a longer period of time.
It takes sustained one-on-one work and a total immersion in God’s Word to perfect a “living stone.”
The mention of immersion brings me to the next picture. Large stones that break apart from boulders fall into mountain streams. They may roll downhill and settle at the bottom of streams and rivers, being immersed in the flowing water. During floods, they get pushed further downstream and break up into smaller stones.
The rough, jagged stones get converted into smooth, rounded stones. Water does its work silently and effectively. The Word of God works in our life in a similar manner. Needless to say, God’s Spirit is involved in all stages of this process.
Like most Christians, we can be satisfied with the reading of a chapter a day. We may even boast about reading the whole Bible in a year. In addition, we may hear 52 or more sermons every year. But a truly immersive experience in the Word requires extensive, prayerful reading of the scriptures, intensive personal study, reading the Bible in community, memorization, and meditation.
Another important aspect of Christian spiritual formation is its communal nature. We grow together.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, … that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.3
We are not individual mountaineers pursuing our dream of conquering the highest spiritual peaks. We are not cheerleaders who promote a few super heroes who can scale the peaks. We are on this journey together, as individuals, families, local churches, and as city churches (the combined expression of the Body of Christ in a city). Either we succeed together or we fail together.
Numerical growth happens when sinners repent of their sins and start following Jesus in response to the Gospel they heard. If the preaching of the Gospel is compared to the dispersal or sowing of seeds, positive response to the Gospel is compared to sprouting of seeds4 and to an eventual harvest.5
Jesus narrated a parable to illustrate the mysterious way in which seeds sprout.
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”6
He does not know how. Neither do we know how the seed of the Gospel produces repentance, faith, and obedience in a sinner. There are two lessons we learn from this.
If God is the one who causes the seed to sprout, we can rest assured that He will do His part of the work faithfully. If we do not see numerical growth, we cannot blame God. We can only blame ourselves for not going out and sowing the seed.
Therefore, numerical growth of the Church cannot be engineered by any human means. It is God who works in the hearts of people to respond positively to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Therefore, nowhere does the Bible command Christians to effect conversions. That is the Lord Jesus’s work. Paul and his companions did what they could. They went out to the riverside in Philippi, and they spoke to a few women who were there. One of them was Lydia, a dealer in purple. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”7
If we do not see numerical growth, we cannot blame God. We are at fault because we do not go out to sow the seed.
The Church’s Mandate and Duty
The Church’s mandate is three-fold: to pray, and to sow the seed, and to make disciples of those who believe.
Firstly, Christians are commanded to pray to God, the Lord of the harvest,
that the Lord’s message may spread quickly and be honored by all.12
2. Sow the seed
Secondly, Christians, as faithful witnesses, are commanded to sow the seed of the Gospel through proclamation.
Jesus to his apostles: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”13
St Paul to Timothy, a church leader: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”14
Throughout history, Christians have been mostly lazy and timid to proclaim the Gospel. We would rather hold meetings in our comfortable premises and invited sinners to attend our “services.” Thus, we converted the Great Commission to “Go and preach the Gospel” to a mere “come-mission.”
We would rather spend a lot of money to disguise the proclamation of the Gospel as a safe, culturally acceptable program than do a zero-budget public proclamation or a simple sharing of the Gospel over a cup of tea. The former destroys the edge of the gospel while the latter methods – whether public proclamation or private conversations – have the power to convey the urgency of our message. The medium is an essential part of the message.
After the Pentecostal revival on Azusa Street in 1906 and similar revivals elsewhere, the twentieth century saw an amazing spurt in evangelism and missionary outreach. Indeed, bold witnessing – not glossolalia – is the clearest evidence of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and anointing over a Christian. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses …” said the Lord Jesus. This is why every Christian and every Church must give top priority to evangelism. Our mandate is clear.
3. Make Disciples Of Those Who Believe
Finally, Christians are commanded to make disciples of those who respond positively to the Gospel.15
Life Transformation Groups (LTG)
What is an LTG?
An LTG is made up of two or three people, all of the same gender, who meet weekly for personal accountability for their spiritual growth. It is recommended that a group not grow past three but rather multiply into two groups of two once the fourth participant has proven faithful to the process.
Why LTG? Small Is The New Big
I wish to submit that the ideal setting for spiritual growth is a small group of two to four individuals. I refer to a small group as the nano group highlight its small size. Considering its function, these small groups should be called Life Transformation Groups. These small groups foster mutual accountability; it is easier for members to encourage one another to practice personal evangelism.
Small groups are designed for growth and multiplication. The human body does not endlessly grow tall or large. We grow. We mature. We reproduce. Similarly, Life Transformation Groups are designed to start with just two members. Eventually, through evangelism, they grow to four members. Then, at a suitable time, the group splits into two. The process is repeated. The process is simple and reliable.
It is natural for us to wonder whether this process will yield significant numerical growth. The growth of LTGs does not happen in an arithematic fashion; it happens exponentially.
Consider the multiplication of bacteria, a unicellular organism. A single bacteria can split into two individual bacterea in about twenty minutes. From there on, consider its growth.
Number of bacteria
after 20 minutes
2 hours min
During the inital one or two hours, one might wonder whether the strength of the bacterial colony will ever exceed a hundred individuals. Similarly, in the case of LTGs, the initial years will test the patience of any Christian. The only factor that can sustain us during those trying times is faith—faith in God who causes the seed to sprout, faith in Jesus who promised to build His Church, faith in the transformative power of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, and faith in the God-ordained process of organic multiplication.
Observe how quickly and steadily bacteria multiplies when the right conditions are provided.
The Strength of Two or Three
There are more reasons why a smaller unit of two or three is better than a larger group when it comes to making and multiplying disciples.
1. Community: Life transformation does not occur in a vacuum; it happens in relationship with others. We need each other for strength and support (Proverbs 27:17; Ecc.4:9-12). Our personal piety has to be validated in the context of interpersonal relationships. The New Testament lists at least twenty eight “one another” commands such as, “bear with one another.”
2. Accountability: Few things will get done in life without some degree of accountability. There’s no doubt we need one another to live the life Christ intends for us. (1 Tim 5:19)
3. Confidentiality: It is easier to maintain confidentiality in a group of only two or three rather than a larger group of ten or twelve. The Lord specifically designated that two or three is best for the confession of sin. (Matt 18:15-17)
4. Flexibility: It is much easier to cordinate the calendars of only two or three individuals rather than a typical small group of fifteen. An LTG can meet anywhere! (Matt 18:15-17)
5. Reproducibility: It is easier to reproduce a smaller, simpler group than a larger and more complex entity (2 Tim 2:2). Perhaps that is why the Lord commanded us to make disciples rather than cell groups or churches (Matt 28:18-20). Transformed disciples in community is the base unit for the kingdom of God.
What happens in an LTG? Let Neil Cole explain it in his own words. Here is a chapter from his book Cultivating a Life for God.
Cultivating a Life for God: Multiplying Disciples through Life Transformation Groups
The Life Transformation Group (LTG) system is a grassroots tool for growth. Through this simple system, the most essential elements of vital spiritual ministry are released to common Christians without the need for specialized training. It taps the disciple’s internal motivation and provides the support needed to grow in the essentials of a spiritual life. The LTG empowers the common Christian to do the uncommon work of reproductive disciple making.
A Life Transformation Group is made up of two to three people, all of the same gender, who meet weekly for personal accountability in the areas of their spiritual growth and development. A group should not grow beyond three but multiply into two groups of two rather than a single group of four. If a fourth person is added to the group, it is recommended that the group consider itself “pregnant” and ready to give birth to a second group. After the fourth person has demonstrated sufficient faithfulness to the group for two to three weeks, the group should multiply into two groups of two.
There is no curriculum or training needed for the LTG. A simple bookmark that stays in the participant’s Bible is all that is needed. The LTG accountability consists of three essential disciplines for personal spiritual growth — a steady diet of Scripture, confession of sin, and prayer for others who need Christ.
1. Sin is Confessed
The first thing the members of the LTG do at a meeting is to ask one another the ten accountability questions found on one side of the LTG Bible bookmark. [Editorial Note: The questions may be adapted according to the culture and age of participants.] The meetings should always begin with this because it is easy to get lost in conversation and run out of time for the questions. Beginning each meeting with the confession of sin tends to sanctify the rest of the time together. The questions are straightforward. Each person in the group takes turn answering each question honestly. The group must be a safe place where the participants feel they can be honest and vulnerable because the questions are very personal. This is the reason why mixed gender groups do not work.
The ten questions are as follows:
Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?
Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate sexual thoughts about another person this week?
Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?
Have you been honoring, understanding, and generous in your important relationships this past week?
Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind his/her back or face - to-face?
Have you given in to an addictive behavior this week? Explain.
Have you continued to remain angry toward another?
Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?
Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?
Have you been completely honest with me?
The accountability questions are designed in such a way as to bring to remembrance any sin that may need to be confessed. The system is meant to be simple and transferable so that anyone can apply it. We have worked through many drafts of questions in order to find a simple list which covers a broad scope of behaviors that need regular confession.
I want to make clear, however, that there is a potential danger inherent with the questions. It is important for those who are involved in an LTG to submit to the spirit of the system more than the letter of the law. These ten questions are meant to stimulate discussion and open sharing, but they are not in themselves an exhaustive list of all that sin is; nor do they define what true righteousness is. Simply adhering to the behavior promoted in these questions does not necessarily guarantee one’s righteousness. Certainly obedience and the confession of sin can lead to righteousness, but we dare not believe that this list of questions is the standard of all that is righteousness.
Jesus Himself is the standard of righteousness (Matt. 5:17-20; John 5:39-47). We must follow Jesus, not a list of ten questions, if we want to truly pursue righteousness. The questions we have given as samples are only tools to help you in your pursuit of Jesus − the only Savior of our sins.
Another reason why these questions alone are insufficient to establish righteousness in our lives is that most of us have enough creativity in our flesh to find ways to sin that are not covered by these ten questions. These questions have proven very helpful in uncovering sinful patterns that need to be openly confessed in a safe and healing community. The LTG provides a wonderful place in which to be accountable to overcome patterns of sinful behavior. There are, however, other alternatives that do the same thing. I have always said people should feel free to adjust the questions to be of the most personal benefit. Some use questions that are more open ended and less specific.
For example, one pastor I know uses questions similar to the following in his LTGs:
How has God made His presence known to you this week?
What is God teaching you?
How are you responding to His prompting?
Is there someone you need to share Christ with this next week?
Do you have a need to confess any sin?
These questions are simple and transferable, yet they allow for a much broader application and openness to the leading of the Spirit in a person’s life. The advantage of the ten accountability questions listed above is that they bring to light more specific behaviors which may need to be confessed but may otherwise go forgotten. They are a more thorough inventory with which to process your life. Both sets of questions have advantages and disadvantages, and either will accomplish the goal if applied in the proper spirit.
I have included a variety of lists of questions used for accountability in Appendix B. Use whatever works best for you. I only have three suggestions in this regard.
First, somehow include in your list of questions one that holds the group members accountable to openly sharing a testimony of Christ’s goodness with others. It should be something that goes beyond living as an example; it should encourage giving a verbal witness.
I would also suggest that you have at least one question that asks each person in the group if they are listening to the Lord and responding in obedience to Him.
Finally, I suggest that confession of sin be a part of the accountability process.
The goal of having accountability is not just to manage sin, but rather to foster honest relationships that are transparent, caring, and in which healing can come through the confession of sin.
The confession of sin cleanses and prepares the soul for every good work God has for each group member. While confession cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9);it alone does not produce righteousness in us. That is why the second discipline of the LTG is so important - the intake of God’s Word.
2. Scripture is Planted
The power of the LTG system lies in the unleashing of God’s Word into the lives of people. The Lord made it clear that the Word of God is the seed of new life. He said, “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God … But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:11, 15).
Each LTG agrees on the portion of the Bible to be read. Sometimes an introductory reading schedule is used to help get things started. The goal is to have the people reading large volumesof Scripture repetitively and in context. For a steady diet, I strongly recommend reading 25 to 30 chapters each week. If the book agreed upon is a shorter book, such as Ephesians or Jonah, it is read five to seven times in a week. If the book is a moderate size, such as 1 Corinthians or Romans, it is read twice in a week. If the book is longer than that, such as Proverbs, Revelation, or Acts, the book is read once during the week.
Books that are even longer, such as Genesis, Psalms, or Isaiah can be broken up. Use natural breaks if possible. Each section can be read as you would the shorter books mentioned above. For example, Genesis can be broken into three sections: chapters 1-12; chapters 13-35; and chapters 36-50. Each section can be read twice in a week. Another example is to break Genesis down into two groups of 25 chapters and read each section once in a week.
There is no set pattern, only the goal of reading twenty-five to thirty chapters of Scripture per week. Some books have shorter chapters, which can mean an increased number read in a week. Psalms, for example, can be read in two parts of 75 chapters per week.
Sometimes sections of books can be read repetitively. We have read Matt. 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount) seven times in a week and found it to be very powerful. Psalm 119 can be approached that way, as can Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2:1-3:22. The key is to choose a section that forms a natural unit and read it enough times so that you are reading approximately thirty chapters in a week.
When the LTG meets the following week, the members ask each other if the entire reading was completed in time (Number 9 of the accountability questions). If anyone was unable to complete the reading portion, then the same reading assignment is to be taken up again. The LTG will continue reading the same portion of Scripture repeatedly until the group finishes it together in the same week. Once all group members finish the reading in the same week, then a new book is agreed upon for the next week. Group members can rotate the privilege of choosing the next book to read, if so desired.
It is important to note that it is not a failure for someone to be unable to complete the reading in a given week. In fact, it is often advantageous if that happens. It is best if it takes a few weeks to get through a book because the repetition helps in the understanding and application of the truth. For this reason, we suggest that the amount of Scripture chosen be a stretch for the group to finish. If a group easily finishes the designated amount each week, then they are probably not reading enough and need to increase the volume. If the group is reading over thirty chapters every week, and they still manage to finish the assigned reading every week, it is not enough and the group needs to increase the amount of reading. Ideally, it should average about three to four weeks for the group to complete the assignment.
In my own experience, during the weeks where any one of us failed to complete the reading, we felt that the Lord was not done teaching us something in that particular book. We then go into the next week with anticipation, believing that the Holy Spirit has a special lesson in store for us. We are never disappointed.
This form of accountability is a breath of fresh air in our highly segregated and “me-focused” society. A major weakness of the Western church is the independent and individualistic approach to spiritual development. In the Eastern world, the ideas of family and community are stronger. It is interesting to note how cell-based ministry and multiplication is occurring more easily in cultures that naturally understand community, as opposed to the Western world that prizes the individual over community. This affects all areas of the church.
The LTGs, in biblical fashion, operate naturally in community. We stay together. We learn together. We move forward together. Our individual spiritual growth is tied to others in a natural bond (Eph. 4:11-16). We care about one another’s progress. In a sense, we learn to love one another as ourselves. My progress is tied to my brother’s, and vice versa. This sanctified peer pressure works to stimulate growth in one another. Like a team, as each player improves, the ability of the entire team is raised to another level, far beyond any individual effort.
God has always intended for His people to work as a team. We read in Hebrews 10:24-25:
And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.```
The LTG can be a first step for the Westerner to learn what community really is. Groups can then be built on transformed lives that have discovered the true value of community in an LTG.
3. Souls are Strategically Prayed For
The Accountability Questions are printed on a card to be used as a bookmark in the Bible (provided on the back cover of this book). On the reverse side of the card is the Strategic Prayer Focus. This is designed to be a reminder to pray strategically for lost people every time the Bible is opened (which is frequently in this system).
Each member of the LTG is to identify the two or three people who are the highest evangelistic priorities God has laid on their hearts. They share the names of these people at a group meeting, and each member writes the names down on the card in the spaces provided. Each person should have listed all the names represented in the group, totaling six names. Each time one of us does our Bible reading; we select one of the names and pray for that person using the suggested prayer guide. With this system, the person who is listed for strategic prayer is prayed for two to three times by two or three different people every week. The prayers (listed below) offered are specific, progressive, and extensive. They are also in accordance with biblical principles of prayer and the salvation of lost souls.
I pray, Lord, that You draw ____ to Yourself (John 6:44).
I pray that ____ seeks to know You (Acts 17:27).
I pray that ____ hears and believes the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).
I ask You to prevent Satan from blinding ____ to the truth (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:25-26).
Holy Spirit, I ask You to convict ____ of his/her sin and reveal his/her need for Christ’s redemption.
I ask You to send someone who will share the Gospel with ____ (Matt. 9:37-38).
I also ask that You give me (and/or my fellow disciple) the opportunity, the courage, and the right words to share the truth with ____ (Col. 4:3-6; Eph. 6:19-20).
Lord, I pray that ____ turns from his/her sin (Acts 17:30-31; 1 Thess. 1:9-10).
Lord, I pray that ____ would put all of his/her trust in Christ (John 1:12; 5:24).
Lord, I pray that ____ will confess Christ as Lord of his/her life, take root and grow in his/her faith, and bear much fruit for Your glory (Rom. 10:9-10; Col. 2:6-7; Luke 8:15).
It is a group effort in bringing these souls before the throne of grace. When we see a new soul born into the Kingdom we all rejoice, having played a significant role in the process. Those who come to faith in Christ as a result of these prayers can form the next group, and multiplication can occur naturally, spontaneously, and in a manner that causes the whole group to rejoice.
Summary of the system
The LTG system is simple, yet powerful. It incorporates the values of community, life transformation, and reproduction of disciples. At our church there is a place for any one who wants to grow in Christ. There is no need for a new Christian to wait for a class to open. There is no ceiling to the amount of care we can offer because the groups can multiply quickly and easily to accommodate any number of people the Lord grants us. The usual barriers do not limit us. We truly have a sense that we can provide help to any person that has a need, whenever that person has a need. If the Lord chose to bless us with a large number of new conversions, we would be able to easily be responsible for their spiritual growth and development.
LTGs meet once a week for approximately an hour.
LTGs are groups of two or three (adding a fourth person is the beginning of the second group, and multiplication is imminent).
The groups are not mixed gender.
There is no curriculum, workbook, or training involved.
There is no leader needed in the group.
Only three tasks are to be accomplished:
Sin is confessed to one another in mutual accountability.
Scripture is read repetitively, in context, and in community.
Souls are prayed for strategically, specifically, and continuously.
LTGs focus on God’s new life in every believer. This “new man” inside us is destined to become like Jesus. We have “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”(Col 3:10). LTGs tap into this DNA of a believer instead of trying to change a believer from the outside, explains best-selling author Neil Cole.
DISCIPLE MAKING MOVEMENTS
ACT BEYOND introduces Disciple Making Movements that grow exponentially using small groups that they call “Discovery Groups”. LTGs too are similar in operation but smaller in size.
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.